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quid pro quo

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Most things in Todoroki’s life have come entirely naturally to him.  He has excellent combat instincts. He’s an inherently gifted student.   He has innate agility and strength. But with Izuku (because he’s Izuku now, Todoroki thinks, his stomach still twisting every time he thinks of him with his given name), he is horribly, hopelessly lost.

They’ve been together for a week and Todoroki is almost dizzy from it, from Izuku taking his hand unprompted, or pressing a kiss to Todoroki’s cheek whenever the urge strikes him, or smiling a small, secret smile at him from across the classroom.  It baffles him every time he thinks about it. Out of every possible option, Izuku has chosen him. Izuku wants to touch him and spend time with him and talk with him. Izuku, the brightest light in any room he enters, the bravest and the kindest and the best, has chosen Todoroki.

Todoroki is terrified of ruining it.  But more than that, he’s terrified of ruining him .

He’s read enough to know that people usually take after their parents, that they tend to reproduce the environments in which they grew up.  And Todoroki grew up knowing little but violence and anger and cruelty. So, by the prevailing logic, he’s going to treat Izuku like that too.

He’s been sleeping very poorly the past week, kept up by thoughts of all the ways he could hurt Izuku.  He could shout horrible things at him, the way he’d been shouted at all his childhood. He could go cold and distant and refuse to tell Izuku what he did to deserve it.  He could be demanding or controlling, try to dictate everything in Izuku’s life. He could hit him.

That’s usually the point at which Todoroki feels like he might vomit and has to splash his face with cold water and try to slow his breathing.

Outside of his capacity as a heroics student, Todoroki has never hurt anyone on purpose.  He never got in fights at school. He never even tussled with his siblings growing up. He simply hasn’t ever felt moved to violence.  But he knows it’s lingering in him like a dormant virus. He’s been infected, he’s sure of that much, and it’s only a matter of time before the symptoms manifest.

To try to forestall the inevitable violent eruption, Todoroki’s devised a few rules.  He is not allowed, under any set of circumstances, to fight with Izuku. In fact, he should try to avoid even the slightest of disagreements.  If he ever gets angry, he has to leave immediately and isn’t allowed to return until he’s perfectly calm. The moment he feels he could hurt Izuku in any way, he has to end it between them.  Permanently.

The rules are certainly not enough, but they’re the best he can do.  He can’t help that he’s been infected, no, but he can try to stop the virus from spreading.

“Shouto?  Did you catch that?”

Todoroki breaks from his reverie and turns to Izuku.  They’re sitting on Izuku’s bed watching a movie, only inches apart.  Todoroki’s chest aches with how he wants to touch Izuku, wrap an arm around his shoulders and pull him close, but he still isn’t sure he can simply touch Izuku whenever he pleases.  That notion strikes him as almost preposterous, to be allowed affection even if he hasn’t done anything to deserve it.

“No.” Todoroki says. “Sorry.”

“I said that I was feeling a little sleepy.”

There’s something in Izuku’s voice, almost the hint of a smile, that makes Todoroki think he’s trying to imply something, but these sort of social subtleties have always eluded him..

“Do you want me to leave so you can go to bed?”

“No,” Izuku says, and there’s that note again in his voice, that insistence that his true meaning lurks farther beneath the surface of his words.  “I want to spend time with you.”

Todoroki’s cheeks flush and he’s grateful that the darkened room makes it difficult to tell.  Will he ever get used to this casual affection, this gentle, natural way Izuku has of telling Todoroki he’s wanted?

“Okay.” Todoroki says, still not understanding.  “So what do you want me to do?”

Izuku regards him, green eyes glowing by the light of the computer screen in front of them.  And then, with a decided sort of set to his jaw, he positions himself so his head is resting in Todoroki’s lap.

“This is good.” Izuku says simply.

Todoroki’s mouth goes dry.  This is so agonizingly intimate, Izuku’s head in his lap in the darkened dorm room.  Will he ever stop feeling the urge to cry at moments like this?

For a few moments, Todoroki is absolutely still, not wanting to ruin this accidentally.  But he soon he finds he can’t resist, and slowly, trembling only slightly, he combs his fingers through Izuku’s hair.

Izuku makes a pleased little sigh and that means that this is allowed and Todoroki’s chest might burst from it.  He does it again, gently combs through Izuku’s hair, amazed at how anyone’s hair can be this soft.   It’s cool and wispy as it tickles his fingers, like combing through silk.

“That’s really nice.” Izuku murmurs, just barely audible.  Todoroki feels that slight lurch in his stomach, the one he gets whenever he makes Izuku happy.

For several minutes, they’re silent, Todoroki simply playing with Izuku’s hair, twisting it around his fingers and combing through his mess of curls.  The physical affection is already overwhelming, but the deeper implication, that Izuku trusts Todoroki enough to allow himself to be touched like this, is almost too much.

“I was thinking.” Izuku says, quiet and relaxed.  Todoroki tries not to feel self-satisfied that he’s the reason Izuku sounds so content.  He’s not successful. “You know how we’ve got the weekend trip downtown coming up?”

“Yeah.” Todoroki replies, still running his fingers through Izuku’s hair.  The trip was UA’s small concession to the restlessness of teenagers cooped up in dorms with strict security protocols.  They were allowed to go downtown for a day, stroll around looking at shops or go out to eat, albeit with strict check-in times and heavy consequences for not following the rules.

“Well, while we’re there, we should go on a date.  A real, proper date somewhere.”

Todoroki’s hand stops and his heart leaps into his throat.  He imagines it—chatting with Izuku in a coffee shop, or holding his hand in a darkened cinema, or buying him ice cream. He can’t quite tell if he’s excited or frightened at the idea.

“Shouto?” Izuku says and Todoroki realizes he hasn’t answered.

“Yes.” He says, resuming playing with Izuku’s hair.  “I’d like that.”


 

In the hall before lunch on Monday, Todoroki corners Uraraka and Asui.

“I need help.” He blurts out.  The words pain him slightly, but this is important.

“With what?” Uraraka asks, in that bright, eager way of hers.  Todoroki sees why she and Izuku make such good friends. They’re both far too interested in helping someone in need for their own good.  Midoriya has the scars on his hands to prove it.

Todoroki looks down at his feet, clenches his jaw, and looks back up.

“I need dating advice.”  He manages.

“Trouble in paradise?” Uraraka asks.  Her tone seems light, but there’s an edge of steel beneath her words.  Todoroki knows she could turn into a formidable enemy if he dared to wrong her best friend.  They’re allies in that regard, then. Todoroki too would never forgive himself if he hurt Izuku.

“No.” He replies.  “Izuku and I are going on a date and I need to know what to do.  You two clearly have it figured out.”

He gestures towards Asui and Uraraka’s joined hands.  Uraraka flushes slightly and smiles.

“Well, you and Midoriya-chan have been friends for over a year.” Asui says.  “It’s not really that different than what you’ve been doing all along.”

“Yes, it is.” Todoroki replies, sounding short in spite of himself.  Why won’t they just tell him what to do? “Where do we go? What do we do?  How do I act? I need to know the rules.”

Asui and Uraraka look at each other, seeming to communicate through expression alone.  Will he and Izuku ever reach that level of effortless synchronicity?

“Come with us.” Uraraka says, turning back to him, with a slight smile and the glint of determination in her eye.  “We’ve got this.”

Seated at the lunch table, hunched together and speaking low, they take him through the basics.  A great deal of it seems to have to do with “reading the energy of the moment.” Should Todoroki take Izuku’s hand while they’re walking together?  Read Izuku’s body language. Should he open doors for him? If it feels right in the moment. What should they talk about? It’s the same as hanging out with a friend.  Let the conversation flow naturally.

After the fourth very similar answer in a row, Todoroki groans and scrubs a hand over his face.

“This isn’t helping.  I’m awful at reading people’s emotions.  I need you to tell me the rules.”

Asui puts a hand on his arm.

“Todoroki-chan, there aren’t any rules.  I mean, there’s the really obvious stuff.  Don’t get up on the table in a restaurant and start screaming at the top of your lungs.  But, short of something crazy like that, you just have to do what feels right. Stop doubting yourself so much.  It seems to me that what you’ve been doing up until now is perfectly fine, because it got Midoriya-chan to like you in the first place, right?”

Todoroki looks to the side.

“I guess.”

“Besides,” Uraraka says.  “You don’t have to do it all perfectly.  Relationships are always a little awkward in the beginning.  It’s okay.”

The bell rings, interrupting their conversation, and the students reluctantly return to class.  Todoroki has trouble focusing on the lesson, something about irregular past participles in English, too busy mulling over what Asui and Uraraka told him.

“You don’t have to do it all perfectly” and “there aren’t any rules” are very new and slightly terrifying philosophies.  Todoroki has lived his whole life with an extensive list of strictly enforced rules. He’s lived his whole life with the expectation that he is to do everything perfectly on the first try, with failures rarely forgiven.  But, perhaps, there’s another way.

Izuku is not his father, and Todoroki does him a great disservice by even implying a similarity.  His father leaves him burned and bruised from training. Izuku patches him up. His father is interested in him as a tool, Izuku as a person.  His father views Todoroki’s suffering as nothing more than an obstacle to his training, something to be pushed past and ignored. Midoriya sacrificed his hand and a chance at victory to try to heal even the slightest measure of Todoroki’s pain.

They are not the same person, Todoroki reminds himself sternly.  He’ll follow Asui and Uraraka’s advice, to do his best and know his failures won’t be punished.  Even if he stumbles in the beginning, he will make Izuku happy.

And with that, he turns his attention back to the lesson.